By Elaine Owen, Editor ~~
County Commission Chairman Stan Helton thanked Lane Bishop for his service to the Tax Assessors Board at the Feb. 27 commissioners meeting then appointed Angelena Powell to his seat with concurrence from Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee and Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson. Bishop served more than three years as chairman of the Tax Assessors Board, leading the department through a Georgia Department of Revenue Audit and Consent Order resolution. Bishop was perplexed about being removed from the board and sought answers which he felt were not forthcoming from Helton. He shared his questions, frustration and warnings with the Fannin Sentinel. Follow this story below.
“I want the taxpayers of Fannin County to know what’s going on in the Tax Assessors Office. I’ve been there nearly three years so I do know what’s going on. I’ve kept a close relationship with Dawn (Cochran) since I’m the Chairman and in her role as Chief Appraiser. We work well together and she keeps me informed. But the average taxpayer in this county does not know what’s going on and I WANT THEM TO KNOW. And that’s my purpose in talking to you—and that’s what I’m doing right now,” said Lane Bishop Wednesday, in an interview with the Fannin Sentinel.
He continued, “An example of what happened to me was raw, back-stabbing politics in Fannin County. And if people don’t think it’s going on here, they need to get their head out of the sand and see what’s going on. This originated all the way back to the court case against the previous Tax Assessors Board. I did attend that trial and sat there and listened to the whole thing, so I know what’s going on. The best I recall…Judge Brenda Weaver was the judge. After she had heard all the evidence, she dismissed the other board. And she made a statement that I personally took as a personal responsibility. She said, ‘I hope the new board will straighten that office out.’ I remember her saying (I think) those exact words—but if they weren’t, that’s how I took it—what she wanted us to do. That was one of my main goals when I agreed to do this (serve as chair of the Tax Assessors Board).
“And we have pretty well lived up to that. We have straightened that office out—I know that. The personnel in there has been A-1 and I commend each one of them. Dawn (Chief Appraiser) has come to me with a lot of stuff and has never tried to circumvent the Board on any decisions she’s made. She always seeks ‘permission’ as she should.
“When all this happened, going back to the beginning, Larry Joe Sosebee (Post 2 County Commissioner) IN MY OPINION is the main one behind this and he has (Commission Chairman) Stan Helton on his side…Larry Joe told me I should never have fired Steve Stanley. He told me, ‘I’m going to get you before this is over.’ HE DID MAKE THAT STATEMENT. And I said, “Whatever you want to do, Larry—you go for it. That’s what this whole thing is about. AND I WANT THE TAXPAYERS IN THIS COUNTY TO KNOW WHAT IT’S ABOUT…it’s not about my term being up. It’s about a vindictive attitude that Larry Joe Sosebee has for me and the taxpayers of this county—and the voters need to know about Larry
Joe Sosebee. I’ve dealt with him for a long time.
“Why has the Tax Assessors Office had to fight to get two or three vehicles to do our job? Why have we had to do that? And we hear from our Chairman, ‘I’m very economic-minded and I’m trying to save the county money.’
“Let me say this, if he’s trying to save the county money, why did he cut our budget $126,000? He puts two additional board members on (the Tax Assessors Board) which cost the county money. And I have been trained for three years and have gone to all these classes—he’s taking all the training that I had and throwing it out the window…Now he’s put another board member on that’s costing the board more money. I say this to the taxpayers of Fannin County, “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going on over there.
“IT’S SICKENING. And we look at Washington DC and we worry about all that mess up there—and it is corrupted BUT little Fannin County is just as corrupt to a lesser degree. It bothers me…and this is not about Lane Bishop…this is about the Fannin County Tax Assessors Board being run by honest people who will NOT go back to the ‘good ole boy system’ that was in that tax office.
“I want to point this out again, after we took over that office, I hired John Foster, a real estate man here who knows this county backward and forward just as I do, who I knew would help get this straightened out. In two weeks after we took over that office, the Fannin County Tax Assessors office added about 10 MILLION DOLLARS to the digest. Where did that 10 Million Dollars come from? I’ll tell you exactly where it came from…it came from two offices over there. One was Steve Stanley’s and the other was Lori Galloway’s. It was tax appraisals that were not even on the digest. This is a FACT, this is not my opinion—this is a FACT. John will confirm it; Dawn will confirm it; half the people in the Tax Assessors Office (I guess) will confirm it. This is not just Lane Bishop’s sour grapes. Some people might think it’s just sour grapes because I wasn’t reappointed. THIS IS NOT SOUR GRAPES. This is ROTTEN GRAPES! And I am sick of it. That’s why I’m giving interviews to the papers…I’m sick of what’s going on over there and all this stabbin’ in the back. And it’s still going on—don’t kid yourself…it’s still there, right to this very day. And I hope the taxpayers and the voters will not forget this when voting comes up, because there’s some people over there (commissioners office) that have the ‘good ole boy syndrome’ and we need to vote them out of office.
“Our chairman (Stan Helton) seems to have a big chip on his shoulder because Janie Bearden (Tax Assessors Board member) and I went before him during the budget hearings held at the Court House and he absolutely was disrespectful and rude to Janie Bearden. I stood there and witnessed the whole thing and she went there to ask him a question. His response to her was this, he said, ‘Janie, I don’t have to explain anything to you.’ That’s exactly what he said to her. And when I talked to him Monday (last week), I asked him, ‘Stan, why are you doing this?’
“He said to me, ‘Lane, I don’t have to explain anything to you.’ I asked him who he was going to appoint in my place. And he said, ‘I’m not going to tell you…if you want to know, come to the meeting tomorrow night and find out.’ Those were his exact words to me. What kind of attitude is that for a chairman of the county commission board? (Pause) Everybody needs to take a long look at Mr. Stan Helton. He’s not everything he appears to be, folks. And this is NOT sour grapes. I want people to understand that—I am not after Stan Helton and I am not after Larry Joe Sosebee. But I do not want to see that board–Tax Assessors Board–go back to the ‘good ole boy’ syndrome.
“As for the people added to the board—I know those men and they are all good, honest men (Mark Henson, Troy Junnier and Anthony Holloway). And some will not be intimidated by anybody. Some might be—and I won’t call any names on that.
“Two goals I had that I wanted to finish before I left the board: 1. We still have 10,000+ parcels that have not been inspected—and I wanted to get that done. It needs to be finished. 2. I was going to make sure that as long as I was on that board it would not go back to the ‘good ole boy’ system—that it was fair to every taxpayer in Fannin County. That’s it—that’s my two goals I didn’t get to accomplish…
Editor’s Note: I have missed three meetings in the years Lane Bishop served as Chairman of the Tax Assessors Board. I heard what he said—and I witnessed this (except for his conversations with Helton and Sosebee) as it happened. I applaud him for his dedication and commitment to the Tax Assessors Board and the taxpayers of Fannin County.
Larry Joe Sosebee said Tuesday morning that he did not question Helton’s appointment of Angelena Powell because, “It was his appointment and he had that right.” Sosebee said he did not recall telling Bishop that he would “get him.”
Stan Helton said his main reasons for removing Bishop from the Tax Assessors Board and appointing Powell was that he wanted more accountability; to reduce the budget and Powell was a business person and “knew numbers.” He shared statistics showing that Fannin County’s 2017 Tax Assessors Budget was $1,019,581 with 15 employees; Union County’s was $318,275 with six employees; Gilmer was $812,073 with 12 employees; and Pickens was $577,773 with eight employees. There was NO COMPARISON of number of parcels in each county.